Examples of Non-Whiny Teenage Girl Voices


teenage-girl-booksAs I have complained, October was a crap month for writing. Most of November was too. Then last week, while I was sitting at work, wallowing in self-pity and plotting a way to not be working at the same place this time next year, my muse came back. I don’t know where she went off to, but boy was I glad to see her. She showed up, I got a new idea, and then it was like that scene in some movie (The Lion King? Fern Gully?) where rain falls on the dried-up earth and suddenly, flowers start growing again. That’s what it felt like. Not only did I receive a new idea, but old withered ideas took on new life. I wanted to stand on my desk and tell everyone that I did not run out of ideas, that I will not one day die of a heart attack in my cubicle like previously feared. Oh no my friends, I am a writer. I plan on one day dying in a hotel room of alcohol poisoning. God, hopefully not. Though after experiencing life muse-less, I can see how that might happen.

The idea. It’s new. I have been working on it. I have 3,000 words all from this weekend. I feel good. I feel vibrant. I feel like maybe it is worth while to go to the gym. I’m not going to say anything about it now, except that it involves a teenage girl. It’s been a bit since I was teenage girl so… to the library! (I suppose I could re-read my old journals. But last time I did that I about spontaneously combusted from embarrassment)

I was concerned that any book about a teenage girl would involve a fair amount of whiney, obsessive, oblivious, stalkerish blather about boys. I re-read a book I read in the eighth grade that spent a great deal of time detailing how the main character really was falling in love with a boy even though she was oblivious to the whole thing. Which, I’m sorry, but have these girls not ever seen a movie? Any movie? How are they so oblivious? The answer is maybe they aren’t anymore. I’ve read two books recently, both told from the point of view of teenage girls, both opposite from each other, both nothing like mine, but both with incredible teenage girl voices.

The first was The City of Savages by Lee Kelly. This book was awesome, oh my gosh. It roasted points of view between two sisters, Phee and Sky. They live in Manhattan which, after a World War that has gone on for as long as they can remember, is now a refugee camp ran by a ruthless warden. Things seem normal for the two sisters until strangers show up at the camp claiming to have sailed the Atlantic to see if anyone else is alive. I know that teenage girls living in a dystopia is nothing new. But the voices of these characters… they sounded like how real live well-rounded girls living in a refugee camp would sound. They were tough, scared, hopeful, funny, annoyed, sad, smart. There were some boy things, but it was part of a greater story. I enjoyed reading the various strong female characters in the novel. This is a very female-centric book without it feeling that way. I didn’t really notice it in the same way I didn’t really notice that Moby Dick is chockfull of men. This book was so good. I think now would be a great time to read it. It’s a good winter book and a great way to cut some of the artificial syrupiness of Christmas.

The other book I read was If I Stay. Now, I know I am behind in reading this book now. I didn’t read it when it first came out because it looked stupid and then they went and made a movie out of it. And while I knew the premise was about a girl who is in a coma after a car crash and has to decide if she stays in her body or not, and I thought that the idea was interesting, I still avoided it because bleh. But it is not bleh, not at all. I read it in a day. I was very much surprised to find that the voice of this character was not a whiny teenager, which is impressive considering that she’s almost dead. I mean, if there was any point at which some whiny-ness was allowed… Instead, I found myself reading a book about a girl who was pretty secure in herself and what she wanted. Mia, the narrator, is a cellist. She has a best friend with no drama, a boyfriend with very little drama, and a great family. There’s no overblown existential crisis except, you know, the death bit. Gayle Forman, the author, moves between the present Mia in the hospital and flashbacks. The action and emotion through this book stays balanced, but really it’s the voice that carries the book.

I also picked up The Fault in Our Stars and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before so we’ll see how the teenage girl voice continues for those.

PS I am reading The Rook now which is not a book about teenage girls. It is, however, awesome and getting more awesome all the time. This is told through the point of view of a thirty year old woman who is quite witty.

So now I’m off to work on my teenage girl voice even though I just realized I am only procrastinating editing my other book and that my first 3,000 words are filled with an awful lot of whining.


Editing Your Manuscript: Five Ways to Not Make it Worse

I’ve been editing and it’s the worst. A guy at my writing group asked how the book was going and I said, “I am editing and I hate it hate it hate it.” To which he replied, “Oh ok, so you’re iscribblesn the hating stage.” That made me feel better. I am in the hating stage. It’s not great here but guess what? It’s a stage. See? It says so right there in the name.

I am starting to see the end to this. I have been writing, or editing, more frequently which makes the whole process less painful. Imagine going to the gym and doing squats and, poor thing, lunges for the first time. Your legs will be sore for a good week. If you do it again the next week, they won’t hurt so much. If you wait two months, it’s going to be that painful every time. I know this. And yet, here I am. This time through the hating stage, I realized some things I want to write down to help me get through the next hating stage faster. The only way out is in and the sooner I accept that, the sooner I get out.

  1. I don’t care what you think, if you’re done with the first draft you’re only half way there. For this book, I thought my first draft was good. And it was good. It didn’t have any major plot holes or any characters that needed to be cut or added. But it’s still a first draft. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to make a first draft a book. This means it’s not going to be a week of laughing at my own jokes and changing “she said” to “she replied.”
  1. And because you’re only half way done, put that manuscript away just like Stephen King said. I read from King in On Writing that it’s really best to put the book away for a while after the first draft so that you can edit with fresh eyes. This is true. It’s also true because you just need a break from it. I have been writing this book for months, it would have helped to have stepped away for a while and thought about something else. But because I was convinced the editing wouldn’t take very long, I skipped all kinds of steps and now I’m having trouble editing because it’s hard and because I’m tired of the story right now.
  1. Never again edit and submit to agents at the same time. This was a crap idea. I thought I would send query letters out so that I could speed up the process of, you know, becoming a full-time writer who lives in Rome for part of the year and has a studio that overlooks the ocean. This does not help editing. Because when you submit letters, you receive rejections. And rejections, I’m here to tell you, do not help your editing process one bit.
  1. Now is not the time to stop bathing. I never stopped bathing. But while brooding over my work and feeling bad about my writing, I let others things go. Soon feeling bad about writing morphed into feeling bad about all things. So shave your legs, clean out the fridge, do your hair, make your bed, organize your desk, keep your shower clean, get your eyebrows waxed. There’s nothing like paying someone to pour hot wax on your face and rip it off to get you feeling good again.
  1. Read something nice. I just finished reading The Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot and it was hilarious. This was also a marked change to what I have been reading: The Mandibles, The City of Savages and other apocalyptic-esque books. I’m not saying Cabot single-handedly pulled me out of this slump, but it was nice to have something cheerful in my brain instead of thoughts like “who’s going to need children’s book in a nuclear holocaust anyway?”

The Princess Diaries – This Will Cure Anything You Got


I remember exactly how I felt after seeing The Princess Diaries for the first time. I was about to turn fourteen and for the longest time, I believed that fourteen would be the year when everything would come together for me. According to all the books I read, fourteen was a time for adventure and first kisses and transforming from a ragamuffin kid into a beauty. The Princess Diaries confirmed all this for me. I stood in the steamy Memphis parking lot after the film, breathing in the muggy air, hoping beyond hope that someone would turn up and inform me that I was actually the heir to a small European principality. The world looked different. I stood up straighter. I love my parents, but in that moment, I knew in my bones that I was secretly adopted.

None of that came true. Fourteen was not the year of first kisses or beauty transformations. Going to highschool did feel like an adventure, but not the swashbuckling, Arctic exploring, jungle hacking one I wanted. Sometime during all these depressing realities, I turned to the book in solace. Since then, I have returned to the book many times. Why do you ask? Aren’t you a fully grown adult woman with a job and laundry and other kinds of books to read? Yup. But I keep reading it because this is the funniest book I’ve ever read.

Now, this might not be the funniest book you ever read. It’s so hilarious to me because it is the diary of a teenage girl and I was once a teenage girl. Also, the pop culture references throughout the book are pop culture references from that time in my life. Fourteen year olds today might not find it quite as funny because they don’t know Britney Spears as a mega-pop star and they have no idea what AOL instant messenger is and why dial-up is such a drag.

The Princess Diaries is the diary of Mia Thermopolis a fourteen year old girl who just started high school. Her life is consumed with the things most fourteen year old girls are concerned with. At this point, her biggest difference from others her age (putting aside the fact that she lives in New York and goes to a private school) is that her mother is, horror beyond horrors, dating her Algebra teacher. The shock of this revelation is nothing compared to the one Mia gets when she finds out that her father is actually the prince, not just a politician, of a small European principality. To prepare her for her role as princess, Mia’s grandmere flies in to stay at the Plaza and give daily princess lessons. Add to this a makeover and some boy drama, and you got yourself a book. The plot may not be original. But the writing is.

I had a hard time resisting the urge to copy whole pages from this book while re-reading it oh, let’s say the eighth time. There were so many examples of things I found funny. I know reading about why a book is funny is not funny. But I went ahead and wrote about it anyways because the book is so damn good.

Cabot wrote The Princess Diaries to read like, well, a diary. Mia’s voice is full of the over-the-top why-me drama you’d expect from a teenager. The diary structure works so well for this because one expects a diary to be more self-involved than a straight first person narrative. To lessen this self-involvedness, Cabot cuts Mia’s melodrama with the voices of Mia’s best friend, Lily, Mia’s parents, and her grandmother. An example of this occurs right off the bat. Mia describes how she saw the cutest boy in school at Bigelows buying cologne. After a paragraph about how Josh is really a sensitive person she explains, “I know because when I looked into his eyes that day at Bigelows, I saw the deeply sensitive person inside him, struggling to get out.” This is immediately followed by, “Lilly says I have an overactive imagination and a pathological need to invent drama in my life.” The juxtaposition of Mia’s over-romanticized vision of this boy and Lilly’s clinical diagnosis balances the paragraph. What Mia says is funny because it’s over-the-top. What makes it more funny is that other characters think this too.

If the book were only Mia being dramatic, then of course it wouldn’t work. Making up the bulk of the novel are the things that make up all novels: plot, character development, and description. Description is another area where the book shines. Cabot excels at describing people and places without losing Mia’s voice. For example, Mia describes the bathroom at The Plaza saying “there are mirrors and little couches everywhere, in case you look at yourself and feel the urge to faint from your beauty or something.” Or in describing the girl on the cover of romance novel – “ The teenage girl had long blonde hair and pretty big breasts for someone with such thin thighs.” My favorite descriptions are of Grandmere’s dog, Rommel. When we meet Rommel, Mia explains that he is a fifteen year old poodle who “is the same shape and size as an iguana, only not as smart.”

There are many many other things to say about this book. There is Cabot’s use of blank space. When Mia finds out her grandmother is coming to give her princess lessons, she writes four lines and that’s it. The rest of the page is blank. There are also times when Mia explains her past naivetee, such as when she thought Frenching was “some weird British thing, like toad-in-the-hole, or air raids, or something.” Or the time she realized her body guard was carrying a gun, not an extraneous third arm. Or… or… or… I could go on.

Cabot has written an entire Princess Diaries series. There are ten books. There is also an eleventh book where Mia is grown-up and about to get married. I am very curious to read this book because, here’s the thing about the other ones if you’re a grown-up: they get old. This book is hilarious because it’s one book. I can remember back to my more dramatic self and commiserate with Mia and her boy problems. I cannot do this for ten books. This does not reflect poorly on Cabot’s writing. I have read a great many of her books for adults and enjoy them thoroughly. All this means is that these books are written for a certain audience and I am no longer a member of that audience. Despite that, in a couple years, when I am trying to find something read and want something funny, I will more than likely pull this battered and taped book from my shelf and chuckle when Mia and Lilly list Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman’s boyfriend as one of the world’s hottest guys.

Make a Damn Plan


October has been a bummer month for me. I don’t know why. I love fall. I love the leaves, the cooler weather, eating soup and drinking red wine. Fall is the time Daniel and I watch You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally and soon we will be watching Love Actually and The Muppets’ Christmas Carol (which, PS, is the best version of A Christmas Carol). Yet here I am feeling like a heap of blah.

It doesn’t help that I really haven’t been writing on account of… I don’t know… maybe a curse.

The truth is, know exactly all the stuff I need to be doing to start feeling optimistic again: go to the gym regularly, get back to eating the way that makes my body feel its best, get rid of that pile of papers we have stacked in front of the bookshelf, finally get around to cleaning out under the sink, start writing again, keep reading interesting books, get back into meditating.

But here I am. Let me take another sip of my martini.

After a month of bleh I am going to make November a month of action. When I talked to my friend Kathryn at the beginning of October, she said she was making October a month of positivity and I thought oooo me too. Ha. But I mean it now. I’ve moped, I’ve watched Gilmore Girls, I’ve had the good wine (will continue having the good wine) (by good wine I of course mean that we have now graduated to wine that costs between $10-$17 instead of $7-$10), I have complained, Lord have I complained.

I used to get subscriptions to Food and Wine and Bon Appetit. But after a few years, I was swimming in magazines and wasn’t really reading them. So I cancelled my subscriptions and have been slowly going through them, ripping out pages of things I want to make and putting them in a binder. In an old November issue of Bon Appetit, there is an article about how to win Thanksgiving. The article, had this advice which I remember reading and would repeat to myself occasionally when needed: Make. A. Damn. Plan. When I came across it while cleaning out the magazines, I cut it out and put it on my bulletin board. I thought about that today while moping/complaining. There’s a place for moping/complaining. I think it can be very helpful. But for me, for this, a month is plenty long enough. Now I’m going to Make. A. Damn. Plan.

Stay tuned.